A couple of my co-workers brought in their Rubik’s Cubes and started memorizing how to solve them. They’ve been playing with them for the last several days. It got me thinking about my Cube (which I think is in my storage unit somewhere) and the heyday of The Rubik’s Cube in general. I wanted to take a look at the origin of this cool piece of pop culture and some of the marketing that sprung up around it, including other puzzles in the Rubik’s family.
The Cube was invented in 1974 by Ernő Rubik (see pic to the right). Rubik was a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture with an interest in geometry and the study of three-dimensional forms. Ernő obtained a Hungarian patent for his puzzle in 1975 and the first test batches of the product were produced in late 1977. The toy would then be released to Budapest toy shops as “The Magic Cube”.
It took several years for Rubik to secure a worldwide distributor but finally convinced IDEAL toys on the potential of the little cube. IDEAL redesigned the puzzle to make the cube lighter and sturdier, and then they decided to rename it. “The Gordian Knot” and “Inca Gold” were considered, but the company finally decided on “Rubik’s Cube”, and the first batch was exported from Hungary in May 1980. The rest as they say, is history.
The popularity of Rubik’s Cube was beyond anything the creator imagined. National and International competitions sprung up to set world records for solving the cube. Soon, the Cube could be seen in commercials, television shows and movies. Even today, the solved version of the Cube will be trotted out on a TV show or movie to prove how smart someone is (anyone see Will Smith’s movie, Pursuit of Happyness?). It’s the resulting pop culture legacy that I want to look at.
Do you remember any of the other products in the Rubik family? The original Rubik’s Cube is a 3x3x3 cube. I remember a keychain version of the 3x3x3 cube being extremely popular in my elementary school. Did you know they also made a standard Rubik’s Cube in braille (click here for a pic)? Pretty cool. IDEAL also released Rubik’s Revenge (4x4x4) and Rubik’s Professor Cubes (5x5x5, see pic to the left). I can’t imagine trying to solve the Professor cube, look at it, it looks like a Star Trek Borg ship. There are also prototypes of other, harder cubes. Click here for video of Rubik professional, Frank Morris, solving a 7x7x7 cube in just over 6 minutes. Not bad, Frank. I bet Mr. Morris subscribed to IDEAL’s monthly Rubik newsletter in the early ’80s. Check it out here.
As for puzzles other than “the cube”, Rubik himself designed Rubik’s Magic. It’s a flat, plastic folding screen with pictures of rings on it. I had trouble figuring out how to work it and usually broke the plastic mechanism. Rubik also developed the Rubik Twist which was a snake-like puzzle that could be formed into different shapes. The twist always seemed somewhat boring to me. A puzzle that many people assume is a Rubik invention is the Pyraminx, but it was invented by another guy named Uwe Meffert. Although not Rubik, it’s still an interesing time-waster.
Speaking of time wasters, does anyone remember the Saturday morning cartoon show Rubik, The Amazing Cube? Anyone? Hello…? Well, for some reason, I remember it. Before writing this article I remember thinking the theme song kicked all kinds of ass and that it was a really cool show. Well, after a little searching, I found a clip on YouTube from the show. If you click here to view the clip you will see that I was grossly mis-remembering the theme song. GROSSLY. WTF?! What was I thinking? Yikes. Young and dumb is my only defense. I forgot that the little kids in the cartoon could only bring Rubik to life when they solved him. That’s nice that these 10 year olds could pretty much solve the cube, under duress, anytime they wanted. If I was being run down by a guy looking to beat my ass and steal my Rubik, but to save myself I had to solve the little cube, then I’m a goner. Here take the Rubik, don’t hit me in the face, please.
Apparently there’s a cube sculpture in Astor Park in New York (see pic left). It constantly gets de-faced with graffiti by the neighborhood youth. For a really good prank, a group of guys got together and turned it into a Rubik’s Cube. Click here for a step-by-step journal of them building the sides of the Rubik’s Cube and the late-night raid to put up the finished product. Or, if you are lazy and want to skip to the picture of the finished product, then click here.
Did any of you have the Atari 2600 cartridge based on the Rubik’s Cube? I kid you not, Atari created a video game based on the Cube. Click here to read all about that debacle at Atari Age (one of my favorite video game sites, by the way). That game may rival E.T. The Extra-terrestrial as the worst game in Atari 2600 history. Yes, E.T. first, Rubik’s Cube second and Pac-Man is third. WAIT!! Donkey Kong, oh my lord, Donkey Kong blew, too. Ummm…..Note to self, that sounds like the beginnings of a future blog article. Moving on…
Where else can I remember seeing the Rubik’s Cube? There was an episode of Seinfeld where George decided to abstain from sex. Because of this he becomes smarter. The longer he goes without sex, the smarter he becomes. In one scene he’s seen easily solving the Rubik’s Cube. Good episode. I remember there was an episode of Growing Pains where Carol was getting ready to interview with a college recruiter and her dad prominently displayed the Rubik’s Cube she completed in the fifth grade. Why was Carol having a college recruiter come to her house for an interview? I mean, I know she was smart, but dang, man. I never got a recruiter to come to my house for an interview.
Well, that’s some of the ca-RAZY crap you could find thanks to the international phenomenon that was Rubik’s Cube. Do you still have yours? I have mine. I never actually solved it the “correct” way, I just took it apart and put it back together so it is in it’s solved state. Hey, it may not be the way IDEAL intended you to solve it, but it works.
If you want more info on Rubik’s Cube visit the official site at http://www.rubiks.com. They have tons of pictures, information and games for you to play. You can even play a 3-D online version of Rubik’s Cube (click here).